Who's the Expert?
Bashon Mann, Co-founder
For the past several weeks we’ve all seen a plethora of statements put forth from CEOs, sports teams, armed service leaders, and elsewhere providing a wide variety of “politically correct” takes on the death of George Floyd, policing in America and broader racial relations. In response to this bump in PR and the desire for brands to attach their names to this movement, Provision Advisors was asked by a close friend if we were “cleaning up” on new business...if we were selling our services to companies wanting to cash-in on the movement.
For many reasons, the answer to that question is "No"...here's why.
This wave, this ‘right thing to do’ prompted us to sit as business owners, as communication professionals and ask ourselves, “...are we experts in racial division...policing...healing generations of sociological wounds?...Is this the course of action we should trumpet as our “lane?”..."is this how we want to sell ourselves?"
And make no mistake, here inside the Beltway and on 5th Avenue, there are no shortage of PR firms large and small staking claim to this corner of the conversation. You can see the advertisements and offerings from LinkedIn to Twitter and all points in between… “Let us help you navigate the right way to talk RACE!” or “We’ll get you through the conversation…”
To be honest, it made me ill and here’s why: As a Black American, I remain bewildered and unsympathetic at the difficulty far too many influential people and elected leaders have with talking about Race in America or how reluctant, business owners have become to simply say, “Equality and Equity are what we stand for… ALWAYS,” or “Racial Intolerance is our brand.” Full Stop.
While I understand there is greater context to digest here and important questions to be asked and answered, there are specific pieces to this upheaval which make ME as a firm co-founder and US as a business, really ponder where our value-add is best offered and consumed.
As we see daily, almost in real time, from athletes to business leaders, many personalities and brands are lost in the nuance. Instead of standing for something clear and concrete their message and intent is watered-down and convoluted, as they attempt to straddle the fence of appearing sympathetic to Black Americans, while simultaneously showing support for our nation’s police officers. By attempting to walk the traditional PR-tightrope of being all things to all people, many come off as either disingenuous or tonedeaf.
The message from Black Americans is simple, “We are getting killed based solely on our skin color and would you please, STOP.” That’s the ask....support for this message and a willingness to exact change doesn't require a social media post or catchy internet meme. As an increasing number of organizations decided to put out statements and press releases, it's obvious most boardrooms, CEOs, or even other PR firms didn't ask the simple, necessary questions:
1. Do you really need to say something?
2. Why does YOUR business need to make a statement...is there something unique about your past or way ahead?
3. Does your audience, whether internal or external benefit from the communication?
4. What's the gain...for you...for this moment...for society?
5. What's the risk...for speaking or not speaking? Far too many businesses, A-list celebrities, and industry influencers missed the mark on effectively answering these fundamental points. Instead, following the masses, they made the decision to jump into a conversation they were not experts on and it showed.
For days and weeks after the killing of George Floyd, many took to social media and exclaimed, “...your silence is compliance,” whether referring to other individuals, friends, or segments of our respective communities. Though, as Dave Chappelle so expertly claimed, you have to be careful with such characterizations. Not everyone has the tools to express the sentiments required within this ongoing conversation, nor are they necessarily needed in the capacity you desire. What is infinitely important however is that we allow for those who wish to speak up from a place of coherence and intelligence, the opportunity and room to educate us and provide the much-needed context for us to digest what the problem is and how we can each position ourselves to be a part of the solution. At Provision Advisors we are experts in communication...at asking questions...at looking around the table and telling clients who is missing. Yes, we will help you develop and relay your messaging...but more importantly, we advise when to speak and when to listen and learn.